Wednesday, 22 May 2019

#Bookreview: The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games | Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger GamesThe Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Dark Fantastic is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in how race affects the character development of people of colour in fantasy, as well as their reception by readers/viewers regardless of race.

Thomas analyses Black characters in four fantasy narratives (books & shows) [Rue in The Hunger Games; Gwen in BBC's Merlin; Bonnie Bennett in The Vampire Diaries; Hermione & Angelina Johnson in Harry Potter] and unpacks the impact of these depictions in society. I have to admit I don't watch much TV, so I have no background/context to the discussions around Gwen and Bonnie, both of which were apparently race-bent for the shows (my knowledge of Arthurian legend is mainly from Disney's The Sword in the Stone, neither have I read the books Vampire Diaries is based on). I have read both The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, so there at least I have some basis of comparison/actual knowledge of what's being discussed.

"Your imagination is more controlled by the dominant social formation than you're probably willing to admit."

One of the problems with publishing English books centering non-white narratives, or even featuring non-white characters, is the usual complaint that "readers can't connect with them". These readers are not just white readers, but sometimes also people of colour themselves. Representation (now and then) is often problematic, even when it exists. The Dark Other has historically been the thing to be feared, the evil that lurks, and the villain that must be defeated--or is just there to serve the storyline and the White Saviour--and even when we try to step out of that mode, to break the cycle of spectacle/hesitation/violence/haunting, we often fall into it again and rarely ever reach true emancipation. It's too easy to fall into trope, it's too easy to fall into the familiar and Thomas puts it thus:
"subverting the traditional positioning of the Dark Other in the fantastic requires radical rethinking of everything we know. It is why, I suspect, when characters of colour appear in atypical roles, they are often challenged, disliked, and rejected.

Thomas also discusses how fans of colour are starting to take back the narrative through alternative means, whether through racebending, shipping, creating alternate universes, etc via fanart, fanfiction, fan videos, or essays and how these collective efforts help fill the gaps where traditional publishing and mainstream media are still struggling.

I will also have to note that coming from a multicultural background, with various media featuring people of colour as the heroes in their own stories, I don't have such a strong disconnect as those from USA or UK, where such media is either hard to get or inaccessible due to language. Still, I've got a lot to think about in terms of how ideas about race in fantasy works and how it will play out ultimately in my own work.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from New York University Press via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 15 May 2019

#bookreview: Leaves of Fall | Patricia Lynne

Leaves of FallLeaves of Fall by Patricia Lynne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars, because it's not like super *omg wow writing* but it has a lot of feels. I wavered between 4 and 5 and decided to let it stand with the .5.

Leaves of Fall is a beautiful and tragic, yet hopeful, story about the war between humans and trees. In this dystopian America, the trees have come awake and waged war against humans for all the crimes humanity has committed against trees and nature. Entire populations have been decimated and small human communities now band together for survival in cities, whilst nomads roam around, raiding and killing and raping. Everyone is suspicious of everyone else, even if they're also human.

When sixteen-year-old Armory is kidnapped by nomads, she's rescued by a tree nymph. With no other options, she has to trust the enemy of her people to bring her home safely. But Birch is an optimist. He doesn't just want to lead Armory home--he wants to find a way to make peace with humans and bring an end to the war.

My first thought upon reading the book was "oo Ents!" but then they were angry Ents, not like Treebeard who was still kindly towards hobbits and good people. Leaves of Fall is an easy read, told in the voice of the main protagonist, Armory. So you do have to suffer through some teenage angst, even though Armory is mostly trying too hard to stay alive to be too angsty.

Lynne put a lot of thought into her character development, and I found myself fascinated by Birch, this peace-loving, kindly tree nymph with a really dark past. I loved the way his back story is slowly revealed over the course of their journey, with each revelation causing Armory to have to stop and reevaluate their friendship. Does your past define your future? Is there true redemption for those who have done evil things in war? Yet the most important question is this: can you forgive and reconcile with those who have hurt you, who used to mean evil towards you, but who now seek forgiveness and want to change? Lynne explores this through the various reactions towards Birch throughout the whole book.

Minor complaints, which is me justifying the not-quite-5-stars:
- There's a little bit of resolution at the end that felt a little too simplistic. There was some set up for it in the earlier parts of the book, but I felt like it never quite followed through, and then it popped up right at the end so I wasn't quite convinced. Still, it's not a major part of the storyline, so eh.
- I wasn't quite convinced with the almost insta-love towards the end (not between Armory and Birch); it felt a little too convenient, but then they are teens and teens are teens so it's believable, even if this curmudgeonly reader didn't like it.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 13 May 2019

13 May surprise #bookreview: The Weight of Our Sky | Hanna Alkaf

I'd had this book on my TBR for a while--I'd initially been excited to read it when it first came out in February 2019, but it took about 2 months for Amazon to ship it to me and then I didn't have the time.

This morning, I woke up to a Twitter feed full of May 13 posts and 50-year-on commemorations, including some which very explicitly said YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK today, so I did.


The Weight of Our SkyThe Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a heavy book. Not weight-wise, it's light enough, it's short enough--I read it in half a day. But it is weighty.

Melati Ahmad and her friend Safiyah head to the Rex after school to watch a Paul Newman movie. Within the span of the movie, Kuala Lumpur as they know it changes. Stuck in Auntie Bee's house far from home during the curfew, Melati must find a way to reunite with her mother--whilst dealing with the djinn in her head that keeps telling her that her mother is dead, everyone around her will die, and it's all Melati's fault.

What possessed Hanna to write about the weighty matter of dealing with OCD on the same pages as she evokes the terror of the never-talked-about May 13 riots? I don't know, but it makes for one compelling and emotional read. I found myself tearing up at multiple places--Hanna's writing is powerful and evocative, drawing you to feel with Melati instead of standing at a distance. The fear is palpable as is the anxiety, the constant counting and counting and counting acting both as a way to calm Melati as well as a grip upon your heart that asks oh no, what's going to happen next? Maybe if you count along with Melati, nothing else bad will happen.

Is there a right and wrong side to the 1969 riots? Does Hanna give any certainties as to who holds the moral high ground? Who was the worst? Whose fault it all was? We don't talk about May 13 because we don't talk about racial politics, even though its effects are still felt in the everyday lives of ordinary Malaysians. Hanna doesn't seem to side one way or the other--the harshest statement she says is in Jay's one statement:
"Bloody politicians and their bloody stupid rhetoric, speeches, ideologies. You ever hear anyone say words don't matter after this, you tell them about this day, when Malay idiots and Chinese idiots decided to kill one another because they believed what the bloody politicians told them."

Instead, throughout and despite the bloodshed and the terror and the racialised statements that she doesn't shy away from (because it was a politically-charged race riot), Hanna highlights the kindness and grace many had for each other regardless of race; from Uncle Chong and Auntie Bee who rescue Melati and other neighbours; Vince and Jagdev Singh who volunteer with the Red Cross to bring food and supplies to various communities; to Puan Salmah, Melati's mother, who treats the injured of all races; and to Melati herself--who learns to stand up for herself and for others in need.

It's not all dark and grim. Hanna indulges in puns and Malaysiana. Auntie Bee is every Malaysian Auntie you've ever met, who will bully you into acquiescence and ask if you've eaten even if she's about to die. Hanna invokes long distant memories of being in school, with the blue pinafores and the chanted terimakasihcikgus, slipping 10-sen coins into payphones to call home and hoping they'll work. There's air mata kucing in cold steel bowls, the fortune teller at the market and the ghost that haunts the cinema.

What holds together the entirety of The Weight of Our Sky is the Malay proverb "Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung." Aunty Bee explains it as "where you plant your feet is where you hold up the sky", or to use a familiar English phrase, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do." There's a sense of futility in that phrase when Aunty Bee first says it, when as much as they try to fit in, her family is never seen as one of the community. Yet it evolves through the novel as Melati comes to the realisation that Malaysia is all of theirs, the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, where the wise words of her history teacher reminds her that Tanah Melayu has always had the influence of the Hindus in ancient Kedah and the Malaccan sultan's Chinese bride, so Melayu, Cina, India, though we live and die by the rules of the land, "this country belongs to all of us."

And you feel the weight of sixteen-year-old Melati learning to hold up the sky as it comes crashing down around her.

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For some context, here's a special news report on the May 13, 1969 riots. I'm obviously too young to have experienced any of it, and most of what happened in KL whilst my family was either in Penang/Ipoh at that time. There was the Penang Hartal, though I don't know that it affected anyone in my family and it wasn't to such a big scale as May 13 (I think? idk, history is not my strong point; we also never talk about the Hartal). But also, everything that happens in KL is a Bigger Deal because that's the capital city, so.

The politics in Malaysia have always been racialised, something we inherited from Britain's colonial meddlings. But it's not all their fault. Policies put into place after May 13 helped keep the physical peace, but it also further stratified society by race and class. For all its relatively low body count, it had long-lasting effects and the threat of May 13 has long been used to keep the Malaysian Chinese quiet (because you know, curfews and bloodshed is bad for business).

At any rate, it's an interesting juxtaposition because just five days ago, Malaysians were celebrating the first anniversary of May 9, where the then-opposition coalition pulled off a surprising win in the 14th General Elections against the incumbent Barisan National--without any bloodshed. It was a similar election win that triggered May 13 fifty years ago, when the Chinese parties won a majority and the Malays were Not Having Any Of It. And maybe that shows how disgruntled everyone has become with BN, or maybe it shows how far we've come as a society since then.

And so maybe there is hope for Malaysia, one where we do not shy away from talking about the hard things, but where even if we do, we also tell of the good things and of all the things that makes us Malaysian. <3

Edited to add: you can get the book here.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

My April/May West End spree

Right after formal classes ended last month, I went a little crazy and decided to buy tickets to as many shows as I could afford. Obviously, I'm also rather cheapskate and I need to save money, so I ended up buying cheap, upper circle tickets to three shows (altogether less than GBP100, so yay me).

My selection felt rather eclectic overall so I thought I'd talk a little about why I picked the shows and also what I thought about them. 

The first show I watched was Betrayal on 15 April, for two reasons: I've still regretted missing the PenangPAC run with Marina Tan and OHLOOKIT'STOMHIDDLESTON. Lame? Maybe. But I'd heard that the story is amazing, and it has a famous actor, so why not? 
Well, the show was fantastic. I do have to admit that I didn't always pay close attention to the acting, mostly because I was fascinated by the staging as well as the moving pieces of the stage. (This might be a thing with me; I remember being super distracted by the moving stages in Lion King too LOL). I was waaaayyyy at the back so I might probably have missed some frontal projection cues if they were blocked by the overhang (and maybe super close facial expressions), but it was a really good vantage point to see the lines between the actors, the use of space, that revolving stage indication of going back in time. It was a really minimalistic staging (except for that revolving thing) that played a lot with lights and shadows--the silhouettes were so sharp you could actually just watch that instead of the actors. 
I loved Tom Hiddleston's and Charlie Cox's performances, but Zawe Ashton just gave me the feeling that she was trying a little too hard? I don't know what it was but somewhere between the tone of her voice and some of her actions/reactions, I just got a little annoyed at her. I might probably be judging her a little too harshly (always that but *I* wouldn't have made those acting choices) but I could just be disliking the character, though (which by implication would mean Ashton did a great job, so idk).

The next one was The Phantom of the Opera on 29 April. A classic choice-- loved the songs, wanted to see it because I'd seen the movie and wanted to see how they could do all that on stage. Realised that I have fuzzy memories of the plot, so there were some bits where I was like, eh, did that happen? Not sure if there were substantial changes in the movie version, though. (I have read the book, the book is 0% like the musical. Well, 20%. The characters and the basic setup are the same-ish. If I recall correctly (it's been decades), it was very much focused on the phantom, I think, and Christine was really a side note. But reading the book you'd be like, how did this become the musical?!)
Anyways, mixed feelings about this. I'd been pre-warned by Choon Ean that it might not have aged well, seeing it's a really old show and it's using the same original stage, so whatever was new/fresh/impressive then would seem kind of old-fashioned now. 
I liked all the dungeon scenes, with the moving bits and the lights and the smoke and the candles and the tilting walkways and the boat! (See, moving stages gets mentioned again haha). The singing was impressive, the staging and the acting and the mirrors and illusions... everything was AWESOME, except the one key bit that spoiled everything. 
When the chandelier "fell", you could literally SEE THE STAGE HANDS WALK OUT THROUGH THE CURTAINS AND CATCH IT. 
Another thought that struck me though, was that my memory of the Raoul-Christine-Phantom triangle seemed rather romantic? The Phantom had a sort of sad romantic vibe, like, aww you like this girl so much but she doesn't love you in return, poor puppy let me give you a hug. Seeing it again, the Phantom was all kinds of creepy. Like the friendly neighbourhood dad/teacher/helpful uncle/starstruck fan, who suddenly turns into a perv. And I was going like, NO THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC. The Phantom is AWFUL. And then the songs don't seem so romantic anymore. lol. 

Finally, I caught Fiddler on the Roof yesterday! This was 100% nostalgia and throwback to the time when we were stuck in a house in Sweden and had the movie on replay until we could sing all the songs word for word. I can't do that now, but I *know* all the songs. 
It was fantastic! No moving stages for this one--it was flat and static boo--but the scene changes were as interesting to watch as the show itself, so yay. I might decide to watch this one again from a better vantage point--the place I was sitting had a bit of a restricted view, so there was this corner/angle of the stage that I couldn't quite see. Idk yet though, if it comes down to it, I'd rather watch a new show than to re-watch one. We'll see. 


As a minor writing update, this is today's stats!

I didn't do all this today, it's just that I didn't update my stats yesterday, being out and all. Things will seem more slowgoing from now on though, since I've reached the end of my pre-edited stuff. From now on, it's actual writing and slogging!

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

#bookreview: The Porpoise | Mark Haddon

The PorpoiseThe Porpoise by Mark Haddon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This started off really lovely and poignant and sad, and then it became... confusing?

Haddon plays with the various myths of Pericles of Tyre (Appolinus / Apollonius) and it's all very well done, very well written, very heart-wrenching. I don't know the original mythology well enough to tell you how accurate the retelling is or how much liberties Haddon as made. However, taking each section, each shift and retelling on its own, Haddon crafts each of them perfectly, entrancingly.

The problem lies with the fact that throughout the twists and turns of the mythology and symbolism, the storyline gets muddled. A character from the start (or the "real life" story) merges in the character of the myth, but instead of staying parallel, instead of staying true to type, the types seem to interchange and jump about until you're wondering: didn't Pericles start off as Darius? Why is he now seemingly Philippe? Is Angelique Chloe or Marina? Or both? It felt like several storylines and characters were lost in the shuffle and then conveniently forgotten about. Could this be because I don't know the core myth? Maybe. Still, it feels like something is missing--somewhere during the jumps between myth and life, some connections seem to have broken or were messed up.

Another thing that wasn't made clear enough for me: how does the myth relate to the real world? Is it all in Angelique's head? Or maybe in Darius's (since the shift starts during his timeline)? Are the intersections real intersections or are they just convenient shifting points for Haddon?

The material itself is also potentially triggering. It deals with grief, abuse and incest, leading to murder and self-harm. These are never fully resolved. There is no happy resolution. Instead, the ending is rather dark so if these are subject matters you have trouble with, this is not the book for you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Random House UK, Vintage Publishing via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Deep dive into the novel: Day 2

So. The plan is to go into a deep dive from May 6 - June 30 and write 10K per week to reach 80K (and the end of the novel) over 8 weeks.

Unfortunately, due to events over the last week (last minute plans, unexpected laziness), I did not manage to clear up all the things I wanted/needed to do before the start of the week. Which meant all of yesterday and half of today was spent catching up and finalising consignment statements and accounts, chasing people to reply emails and generally a lot of hair pulling. Which means I'm starting off 1.5 days late.

The good part is that I've already got working drafts of chapters 1 - 3, approx 8K-ish words, so I do have some time to get into the groove. I've thus spent most of my time reediting chapter 1 today. And googling the Malaccan sultanate as well as church hierarchical titles. (This will make sense eventually. hahahaha)

So I'm still sorta on track!

I don't know how often I'll post updates (I might do a dailyish blog, but I might not) so if you want to keep tabs (and push me on), here's my goal tracker.

Note: The dissertation actually only needs max 40K, but well, I might as well get the whole novel done, no? The other goal is to get an agent before I leave, for which I do need a completed novel. lol.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

#bookreview: The Beekeeper of Aleppo | Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of AleppoThe Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are books that you love right from the start and books that grow on you as the author takes you on a journey to unexpected places. Lefteri's The Beekeeper of Aleppo is one of the latter.

When I first started reading it, I was really all like, what's the buzz? It read like just another refugee narrative, the story of Nuri & Afra's journey from Syria to England--I was drawing comparisons to Abdulrazak's By the Sea--but as events unfold, it becomes clear that things aren't as they initially appear. An exploration of the strange things our minds do in the face of terror and loss, Nuri's narrative appears to be reliable at first--he's the one guiding his blind wife through their perilous journey--but cracks soon appear, signalling that maybe he's not as reliable and steady as we thought he was.

Lefteri switches seamlessly between present and past, each section linked by a key thought, idea, or image. There is a sense of mystery, a sense of "what are you not telling us?" as you read, akin to Oyeyemi's White is for Witching; not the kind that leaves you unsatisfied, but the type that leaves you hoping that the next word, the next paragraph, the next page will reveal what you really need to know. It's beautifully crafted, like a hook in your soul that draws you further on, deeper in, to a kind of inevitability I felt while reading Blackberry and Wild Rose.

As Lefteri leaves the whimsical and hard truths are revealed, the book turns sad and sorrowful. A heaviness sits in your soul, not just because terrible things happened to this refugee couple, but because terrible things are still happening to real, living refugees in our war-torn world. I admit to tearing up at the end of the book, not something I do very often (as much as I read and feel emotionally, tears are often hard to come by). It also ends with hope.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bonnier Zaffre via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Tuesday, 30 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Zephaniah the Zarf Zealot

Zephaniah the Zealot had a zarf. It was made of silver, with beautiful chasing and filigree work, and he used it every morning as he sipped his Tazo Zen (TM) tea (a blend of green tea with lemon verbena, spearmint and lemongrass—the perfect way to add zest to his morning) from a glass cup.

The zarf was his prized possession inherited from his late grandfather, the only thing in the world he valued almost as much as his tea, so it came to quite a shock when he woke up one morning to find that it was gone.

“What do you mean you can’t find it?” he asked his housekeeper, who was actually his housemate that he’d bullied into making tea for him every morning and doing all the chores.

“It’s gone,” Benny said. He was quite tired of clearing up after Zephaniah all the time, especially when the man seemed to spend all day making YouTube videos about the benefits of tea and how everyone should drink them only from clear glasses held in zarfs.

“It can’t be! It was just there last night!”

“Yes, but it’s not there this morning,” Benny grumped, folding his arms across his chest.

“I can’t appear on YouTube this morning without my zarf!” Zephaniah was totally not zen about this.

“Too bad. Don’t appear on YouTube then.”

“But… but… my fans!”

“What fans?”

“My audience! The people I preach to every day and extol the benefits of tea and zarfs!”

Benny rolled his eyes. “I’m sure they’ll make do without hearing from you for one day.”

“But if you don’t find my zarf, then I will never be able to make another youtube video ever in my life!”

“Uhh… buy a new zarf? Or make one? Get one made?”

Zephaniah fell to his knees. “You don’t understand, Benny. That is THE Zarf, the Best Zarf, the Greatest Zarf In  The World.”

“Woahhh,” Benny backed away, “it can’t be all that.”

“It’s like the holy grail. For tea.” Zephaniah clarified with a sniff.


“Please, Benny, you have to help me find it.”


“I’ll reduce your rent! Again!”

Benny didn’t think about it for too long. Doing all the housework and making tea for Zephaniah was tiring and sometimes annoying, but he was paying very little rent. If Zeph reduced the rent even further, he’d barely be paying anything to stay there. It wasn’t a bad deal.


Three hours later, after turning the whole house over, Benny found the zarf hiding behind a zither. Where the zither came from or how the zarf got there, he had no idea, but he took it up to Zephaniah’s room.

“Oh thank you, Benny, my man, my best friend! You have saved the day! I will finally be able to make today’s YouTube video where my zealous fans have been waiting all day.”

“You’re welcome, I guess,” Benny replied.

“Wait, don’t go. Let me introduce you to my fans!”

Zephaniah turned his video cam around and Benny found himself being talked about as the saviour of the day, for having found the stolen zarf. Benny smiled awkwardly and waved, though he had no idea who was watching, or how many people would watch it later in the day. It was a matter of principle for Benny that he never looked at Zephaniah’s YouTube page. Ever.

As soon as he could, Benny escaped from Zeph’s clutches and scurried back downstairs. He needed to clear up the house after having turned it upside down in search of the zarf, but when he pulled back the curtains, he just couldn’t. It was a gloriously sunny day outside and all of a sudden, he was just desperate to get out of that zoo he called home. Seriously, living with a Tea and Zarf Zealot was sheer madness, despite the low rent (and even lower now, since Zeph had agreed to another 20% reduction). Pay peanuts and get monkeys, as his mother used to say.

Benny made himself a cup of Zeph’s Zen tea and then went out to the zoo.


Today's suggestions were:

  • zarfs, from Barbara Harrison
  • Zealot/Zion,Zionism/zen/Zoroastrianism, from Cherie Osier
  • zither, zest, zeal, zoo, from Donna Smith 


Thank you to everyone who gave me words to use, even if I didn't end up using them! :)
Here's a link to the final list if any of you want to have a look.

There's also this! Hurrah!

Tomorrow, maybe, I'll blog about Eastercon.

Monday, 29 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Yellow (also, #musicmonday!)

... because you can't escape.



You are beautiful.

No, don’t say that. Don’t give me that wavering smile that means you are listening but you’re not hearing, that you heard me but you don’t believe me. There is a brightness in your eyes, a generosity in your smile, a sweetness on your lips and a glow on your skin that makes you who you are. You are beautiful, inside and out, beyond definitions, beyond conventions.

You are.

You are more than you think you are.

No, don’t deny it. Don’t put yourself down because you think you don’t do enough, because you think that others are brighter, stronger, bigger, better, more than you. There is a fullness in your soul, an overflowing in your spirit, an openness in your hands and a mileage on your feet that defines your very presence. You are enough, whether you do or do not. It’s not a competition.

Your skin
Oh yeah, your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
You know, you know I love you so
You know I love you so

I don’t say this because I love you. Yet I do say this because I love you. Because you deserve to hear how awesome you are, how good and great and glorious, and if no one else says it, then I must.

The world is a cold, cruel place, but more damaging still is your mind when it spirals, when it is colder, harder, more unforgiving than the world around you. Because the world forgives, it forgets, it moves on, but you don’t. Where they fold in to protect, covering themselves in spikes for defense against the world, you fold your spikes inwards, tearing yourself again and again, protecting the world from you.

They don’t need your protection.

You do.

Your skin
Oh yeah your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
And you know
For you I'd bleed myself dry
For you I'd bleed myself dry

You are more than you think you are.
You are beautiful.
You are.

I love you.


Today's suggestions were:

  • yellow, from Barbara Harrison
  • Yarmulke/Yiddish/Yom Kippur/yoga/yam/yin,yang/yen/Yule, from Cherie Osier
  • yammer, yodel, from Donna Smith 

All of which I didn't even really read, once I saw "yellow".

Saturday, 27 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: In the Xystus

There was a xiphoid hole in Marcus’ view of the world. It was where his anger used to be, where his hatred and xenophobia once resided. No more. He slumped back against a column in the xystus, exhausted.

“Do what you will,” he said aloud, though there was no one to hear him. “I cannot do this any longer.”

“Who asked you to fight?

Marcus jumped at the words, twisting and turning to see who had spoken. There was no one around. “Who’s there?”

But no one replied.


Three days later, exhausted from his morning work out, Marcus leaned against another column, panting.

“You shouldn’t push yourself so hard. What are you trying to prove?”

Marcus looked around with a frown. He still couldn’t identify the owner of this mysterious voice. Again, there was no one in the xystus.

“What do you want?” he asked, feeling stupid for speaking to the air. Though for all he knew, the person could be hiding outside amongst the bushes. The portico was open-air, after all, and he couldn’t see around each tree and bush.

The voice seemed to have disappeared again.


The next time the voice spoke to him, Marcus was prepared. He had several of his servants hidden outside and scattered around the xystus to spot if there was anyone around.

“Guilt cannot be assuaged by a sword. Neither can it be diminished by running yourself ragged.”

“Who said I’m guilty?”

“What do you seek to achieve then?”

Marcus had no reply and the voice didn’t speak again. None of his servants could find anyone in the surrounding area. Even his silent watchers were too far away for their voices to have carried.


Marcus was slick with sweat, hands trembling, as he leaned over in the middle of the xystus, hands on his thighs.

“You don’t have to haunt me, Justus,” he said as he panted. He’d thought this through over many nights, even as he pushed himself harder and harder every morning. “I know your death is my fault. And I know that I will never get over my guilt. So let me have this, at least.”

“What are you fighting for?”


There was a pause. “You know I’m no longer here.”

“But you are. You speak to me. Why?”

“It is not your guilt to shoulder.”

“I let you die!”

“Did you?”

When Justus was alive, his calm, pointed questions would always make Marcus stop and think, would make him reevaluate the rash decisions he often made in anger. Justus’ last question hadn’t made him stop long enough to prevent him from lopping off the head of the other village’s messenger, the other village’s peace messenger, the one that turned out to be the chief’s only son, who had come with an offer of peace.

He’s lopped the boy’s head off because he was too dark and too swarthy and too other. And then there had been war and Justus had been killed in the retribution, had offered himself up for the chief’s anger, ending it all.

Marcus fell to his knees, hand grasping at where his sword should have been, the one he’d given up the day Justus died, when he’d surrendered his village to the rule of the other. Their chief had been merciful, only restricting him to his home. If Marcus looked hard enough, he could see his silent watchers, the soldiers guarding his property to prevent him from leaving.

“You can’t keep punishing yourself for the past.”

“I’m not.”

“Then why do you do this to yourself? Why do you punish your body every morning and starve yourself every evening?”

“What else is there to do?”

“Ask for forgiveness.”

“I’ll not grovel.”

“He won’t expect you to. He’s given you this much.”

“He’s given me this much rope to hang myself.”

“Bitterness does not become you.”

Marcus slumped against a column, exhausted. “I cannot do this any longer.”

“No one asked you to.”


Today's suggestions were:


Friday, 26 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Wombats

Winnie had always wanted a pet, but no matter how many times she begged her mother, the answer was always no. She tried asking her father, but his answer was “ask your mother”, so that wasn’t much use. Her best friend Wanda had a  rabbit named Wiggles and even her worst enemy in school had a cat, so it was quite unfair that Winnie wasn’t allowed to have a pet, even though she was almost ten.

One evening, when she was especially bored, Winnie wandered out into the backyard. She was standing by the fence, kicking at the clods of dirt, when she noticed weird little cubes on the trail outside. Winnie’s house in Tasmania was right beside the forest reserve, so she’d seen many wild animals passing by, but she didn’t recall seeing any of these strange cubic pieces of… poo before. Throwing a quick glance back at the house, she slipped out of the back gate and followed the trail. No one called after her, so she happily went on her way, being careful not to step on any of the poo.

Birds called overhead as she passed, but she kept her eyes on the ground, searching for this mysterious animal. She came to a sudden stop when she heard a quiet yelp.

“Ow, that hurt,” a low voice said.

“Sorry. Couldn’t help myself,” another voice replied.

Winnie peered through the folliage to see two small, furry, brown creatures talking. She frowned. How come she could understand what they said?

One of them looked up suddenly, staring straight at her. “Uh oh, I think we’ve been spotted,” it said. The two started to lumber off.

“Wait!” Winnie called after them.

The second one stopped and turned to look at her. “You can speak to us! Walt, wait—the human speaks wombat!”

Walt stopped, baring his teeth at Winnie. “I don’t know, Wanda, are you sure you can trust humans?”

“Is that what you are? Wombats?” Winnie asked, ignoring Walt.

Wanda nodded. “But how is it you understand us?”

Winnie shrugged. “I don’t know. I was just following the trail of poo when I heard you talking.”

Both Wanda and Walt started blushing.

“You… you didn’t see us then though, did you?” Walt asked in a strangled tone.

“No, I only saw you after. Why?”

Wanda smiled. “Oh, nothing. It’s just… heh. Nothing, dear. It was just a slightly embarrassing thing. What’s your name, child?”

“Oh, I’m Winnie. Nice to meet you,” she replied. “Is the poo yours?”

Walt’s nose twitched. “Not ours, I don’t think. But part of the wisdom’s.”

“The wisdom?”

“The rest of our group. Not all the younger ones remember to clean up after themselves sometimes.”

“Oh. Are you all family?”

“Mostly. This is our home territory,” Wanda replied. “Where do you come from, Winnie?”

“Oh, over there.” Winnie turned to point at her house, but realised that she’d lost sight of home. “Oh dear. I can’t see my house anymore.” She bit at her bottom lip. She’d been warned many times by her mother not to wander off too far, and the light was beginning to fade as the sun was setting. “I… I’d better go. I hope I don’t lose the trail.”

Walt and Wanda shared a look. “We’ll come with you, dear,” Wanda said. “If it’s that big white house near the fence, we know the way.”

“Oh, thank you,” Winnie replied.

The two wombats shuffled along beside her as they made their way to Winnie’s house. It didn’t take long before the trail seemed familiar again and Winnie saw the fence and her house beyond that.

“We’ll stop here then,” Walt said, clearly uneasy about being seen by anymore humans.

“Thank you so much!” Winnie replied. “I hope I’ll see you again one day.”

“Maybe we will,” Wanda said.

The two wombats turned and walked back into the forest, leaving Winnie a clear view of a huge bite mark on Walt’s backside. She wondered about that as she hurried back into the house where her mother was calling her for dinner.


Today's suggestions were:

  • wombats, from Barbara Harrison
  • Wonder/wander/wishful/worship/WORD, from Cherie Osier
  • wallaby/wedge-tailed eagle/willy wagtail/wattle, from Sharna Steinert,
  • wisteria, wise, from Donna Smith 

Wombats were an easy choice because they're cute. haha. I also could not pass up the chance to pass on the knowledge that, according to National Geographic, a group of wombats is called a "wisdom".

... on an aside, this has got to be one of the weirdest vids I've seen in a while.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Victorious

It wasn’t vanity. At least, it wasn’t to Vanessa, not anymore. It was the need to stay in charge of something, even if that something was just the way people saw her. She needed to look poised and in charge, ready for anything the world threw at her, whilst her life burned down to ashes. If she went down, she would go down looking beautiful, like the queen she was. Should have been.

Vanessa hadn’t understood this when she was younger. She’d looked at the women, both young and old, who populated the spaces she inhabited and scoffed at the thick make-up and perfectly coiffed hair, making snide remarks about how vacuous they were, how air-headed. She had things to do, great things to achieve, and she would do it by sheer willpower without resorting to sexual wiles. She didn’t need to look pretty doing it, she just had to do it.

It’s funny how a decade or two changes things.


“You can’t be serious.”

“I am.” Foundation first, smearing it on thick, smoothening out her skin. Concealer for concealing, hiding all her imperfections.

“You can’t—getting pulled into their vortex will kill you.”

“I can’t paddle hard enough to stay outside them.” Contours. Highlights. Illusions to make you thinner, sharper, more desirable. But also, pointier.


“It’s the way of the world. It’s sink or swim, dear.” Was she pointy enough? With edges sharp enough to cut? Her brows were on point. She hoped.

Or? There’s still an or?”

“Look if I don’t play the game, I’m out. And then where would I be? What would I do? If I play the game, at least I’ll still be…somewhere.” Eye shadow, sparkly but subdued. Look at me, look at me, it screamed. You want me, it whispered.

“You’ll be dead. Career-wise, I mean.”

“No. Not if I’m smart enough.” Eye-liner. Such stabby things. She hated them.

“No one is smart enough. You can’t challenge the establishment.”

“I’m not challenging it. I’m working with it to subvert it.” The perpetual blush. Pink, rosy, healthy—not quite demure. She wasn’t going for demure, she was going for Queen.

“It’s not going to work.”

“We don’t know that yet.” But they would, soon enough. A final touch of red on her lips. She closed her eyes. This was it. This was the reinvention of Vanessa Ling, the explosion of chaos, into She Who Has It All.


The thing with success is… it comes to those who look successful. The world had an idea of what victors and losers looked like, and if your skin wasn’t the right colour, at least your clothes and demeanour could make up for it. As could your make-up.

Vanessa had thought it vanity, a long time ago in her youth, but now she knew better. She knew to hide her vulnerability behind a mask of victory, skirting the vortex of those who would bring her down by drawing closer to those who could pull her up with them. It wasn’t quite the truth, not yet, but it was an armour. And the more you wore a mask, the more you became it.

Vanessa would look victorious, even if she crashed and burned. And no one would be able to tell the difference. 


Today's suggestions were:

  • vortices, from Barbara Harrison
  • Vortex, anonymous
  • vanity/vulnerable/vacuous/victorious, from Cherie Osier
  • veal, velocity, vast, from Donna Smith 

I seem to have forgotten how to write. Not entirely sure if this makes sense at all. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Unexpected (a #bookreview of A Brightness Long Ago)

I titled this post "unexpected" because I didn't actually expect to get to review this book when I requested to review it on NetGalley. I'd previously been getting rejected quite a lot, especially for "big" books from famous-er authors. Apparently, though, I've crossed some sort of threshold where I'm starting to get approvals. Maybe the number of reviews?

A Brightness Long AgoA Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Brightness Long Ago is a novel about unexpected events that change the course of one's life. Guidanio Cerra's meeting with Adria Ripoli in Mylasia (and I can never read this name without transposing it into Malaysia) alters the course of his life dramatically, with effects that ripple throughout the book. At each juncture, his choices--not always wise, not always safe--lead to even more unexpected events and meetings. What else can catapult a tailor's son from his small life in Seressa onto the political stage that involves the two most influential mercenary commanders in Batiara?

And there it is: A Brightness Long Ago also the story of a war of wills between those two commanders: Folco Cino d'Acorsi and Teobaldo Monticola. It's not so much the story of war itself, though war is the backdrop to everything in this book, but their battle of wills, their manoeuvring, the little decisions and plays that change the course of history. It's also a story of honour and faith--misplaced honour in some cases, and neglected faith--and very much a tale of personal choice and responsibility and how that ripples from the personal to the political and vice versa.

The narrative shifts between POVs and time: Danio's POV is in the first person, but third person narratives include POVs from Adria, Folco and Teobaldo. It involves memory, that fickle thing that always changes and fades with time; a breathtaking scope that is both focused on the short span of time from the Guidanio's first meeting with Adria to the fall of Sarantium and played out over the years from the first battle between Folco and Teobaldo.

It's apparently a prequel, but I read it without having read the other book, so it works fine as a standalone. If anything, it spurs you on to want to read that other one, Children of Earth and Sky, which I will eventually get to (when this TBR shrinks)!

I can't really define why it's not a 5-star book for me, like all the other books of Kay's have been. It broke my heart, it did, but it took a long time getting there and maybe it's too sprawling, maybe I need the background of the book that came before this but is set after it, maybe I've been too distracted over Eastercon. It feels like one of those books that you need to re-read to really get it. So I'll leave it at 4 stars, and if I ever have the time to read it again, we'll see if that changes.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Hodder & Stoughton via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews


I... skipped yesterday's A to Z Challenge post because... I got home from Eastercon and then I spent all day in bed. Sorry. I will catch up tomorrow, and will have to up the wordcount again. =.=

Monday, 22 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Silence

If there is one thing I enjoy the most, it’s sound of silence. Nothing moving, no one speaking. It is then, in the quietness of your mind, that you find peace.

The stillness sustains you, it is the sustenance your soul needs. Not many people find it. Sam and I have.

My mother-in-law calls it superstition, but her mind is so noisy that she cannot move beyond petty things. Noise is the sepsis of your soul. It eats at you, poisoning you. She calls me a witch.

That’s okay. Her words cannot hurt me from the madhouse she’s sequestered in, many miles away from here. Maybe she will find her own stillness, find her own peace. She can’t do anything more to harm me and mine.

A persistent scratching pulls me out of my thoughts. I scowl at Sam. He looks guilty, stills his finger, his eyes begging and filled with tears.

I sigh.

“What?” I ask as I pull the gag from his mouth.

“Please, let me go,” he rasps.

In reply, I gag him again and wrap cloth around his hands, bound tightly as they are behind his back, so that he cannot move an inch.

I will have silence. 


I... am sorry. That's not how it was meant to go.

Today's suggestions were:

  • sepsis, from Barbara Harrison
  • silence, anonymous
  • sustenance/sustain/simplicity/superstition, from Cherie Osier
  • sugar glider, from Sharna Steinert
  • sequestered, sandwiched, from Donna Smith


This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Ravenous Rebekah

Rebekah was ravenous. She rummaged in the fridge but came up with nothing. Where had all the good food gone? For some weird reason, the fridge was ridiculously empty.

“Maaaaaaaaa didn’t you buy food?” she yelled up the stairs.

“In the fridge!” her mother shouted back.

Rebekah opened the fridge door again. There was still nothing edible there. Not even rudimentary stuff like bread and butter. And eggs. What she saw instead was a bunch of ranunculus, though what the flowers were doing in there was rather puzzling. Maybe the rambunctious twins had something to do with that.

“Robbie! Randy! Where are you?”

Robbie’s head popped up from behind the kitchen table, whilst Randy peeked in from the open door.

“What?” Robbie asked.

“What have you done with the food?” Rebekah asked, putting her hands on her waist, her arms akimbo.

“Ate them,” Randy replied.

“All of them?”

They nodded in unison.

“That’s ridiculous!” she said with righteous anger. “How could you eat all the food in the fridge in one day?”

“We were ravenous. Rock wallabies eat a lot, you know,” Robbie answered with a sharp nod of his head.

“And red-bellied black snakes need to stock up on food before they hibernate,” Randy said, rubbing his belly.

Rebekah scowled at them. “You—do you even know what you’re talking about?”

The twins shrugged.

“Dunno, but rock wallabies are probably bigger than me and do a lot of rock climbing so they must eat more than me too.”

“Yeah, and snakes hibernate in winter. Don’t they?”

Rebekah sighed. “Okay, then what are the flowers doing in there?”

“Flowers?” they echoed, running up to the fridge.

They stared at the pink and yellow blossoms and then at each other.

“Oops,” Robbie said.

“Whoops,” Randy replied.

They grabbed the flowers and backed out of the kitchen.

“Bye Bekah!” they screamed as they ran away.

Rebekah stared at the now-empty fridge. She’d just have to go out and eat if she didn’t want to die of hunger. She went upstairs to change, coming down minutes later in jeans and a clean t-shirt.

The doorbell rang.

Rebekah went to the door and opened it to find her boyfriend standing there with a bunch of very familiar flowers in his hands. She stared suspiciously at him.

“Oh, uh, hey. Wanna take a walk down the block with me?”

“What’s going on, Jake?” Rebekah folded her arms across her chest.

“Just to the park.”

“Twins! Why is Jake holding the flowers!” Rebekah yelled.

There was no reply from either Robbie or Randy, though, so she sighed, rolled her eyes, and nodded.

“Fine. But only if we end up somewhere with food. I’m dying of hunger and there’s nothing in the house.”

“Okay,” Jake said.

She took his hand and they walked down the block to the park, where all her family and friends had gathered with a great feast and a banner saying “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BEKAH!”

She’d totally forgotten it was her birthday.


Today's words were:

Are the words getting harder or is it just me?


This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

Today's Camp Nano wordcount is... 6,907/10,000!

Friday, 19 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Dr Quaker's Quandary

Dr Quaker was in a little of a quandary. He and his esteemed colleagues worked with animals and DNA, and he’d heard worrying reports that one of them wanted to use the DNA of the quagga to bring it back from the dead. Oh, he was aware of the current Quagga Project—but that involved breeding zebras selectively to look like quaggas, not trying to recreate a creature from its DNA. Hadn’t any of them watched Jurassic Park? Or Frankenstein? Well, obviously he knew revived quaggas weren’t going to suddenly morph from placid herbivores into Velociraptor-like carnivores, but what if they turned out to be brain-eating zombies instead?

At any rate, he didn’t want to be associated with quacks like that, so now he had to find a way to… find a new job, probably. Dr Quaker mulled over it for a long while before taking out his prized quill, dipping it into ink and writing a letter.


The new job in Australia was another whole new quagmire. He thought he’d be getting away from quacks, but it seemed that everyone in the community had wild dreams of saving almost extinct animals. At least the quokka was merely vulnerable, not yet extinct. Yet it remained that many of his new colleagues wanted to save and study their DNA just in case they could clone them or something sometime in the future.

He had to admit, though, standing in the middle of Rottnest Island with a quokka in his arms, that the happiest creatures on earth were rather… cute. When they were not shredding him to pieces with their claws. Or stealing food from his camp. Or stalking him in the middle of the night. If mad scientists wanted to clone anything, he’d go with the quaggas over the quokkas, if only because quaggas would probably make less scary zombie creatures.


After long consideration, Dr Quaker decided to take refuge in a quiet Quaker commune to ponder about life, the universe, and extinct animals.


Today's suggestions were:
  • Quakers, from Barbara Harrison
  • quagmire/quandary/quagga, from Cherie Osier
  • quokka, from Sharna Steinert
  • quill, quack, quintessential, from Donna Smith

This one's short again because I didn't know where it should go. A quagmiry quandary, indeed. :p


This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Percy the Porcupine

Percy the Porcupine was a prickly little thing. He’d been prickly, even as a little child.

“Don’t mind Percy,” his mother would say every time he was in a bad mood. “He was born with hardened quills.”

Which wasn’t even remotely true. Baby porcupines were born with soft spines which hardened within a few hours, but Percy’s had taken almost a day to harden. His mother had despaired for him, though she only told him this in private. It was the first indication that he wasn’t exactly normal.

You see, Percy was an Old World porcupine, which meant that he was large, terrestrial and nocturnal. Or supposed to be. Instead, he was the smallest in his burrow system. Even his younger brothers and sisters had outgrown him. To make it worse, he was the only one in his litter, so it wasn’t as if he had to share any resources with a twin. He was just… small. Which made him even pricklier. And when he was feeling prickly, he’d stay up all day and sleep all night to avoid his siblings, which added to his prickliness because then he’d also be tired all the time.

“Look, Percy, you can’t always be in a bad mood,” his older sister Pam said one night. “You’ve got to just chill out, relax your spines, don’t bristle so much.”

“Well, you guys can stop teasing me then,” he retorted.

“We’re not teasing you! When have we teased you?” She looked around at her siblings for help.

“Well, yesterday, you called me tasty human food.”

Pam shrugged her shoulders. “It’s a fact—humans in Southeast Asia and Kenya eat us! And you’re so slow you’ll be the first one they catch.”

“And the day before, you bopped me on my snout.” He glared at Patsy, Pam’s twin.

Patsy giggled as she said, “It’s a very cute snout, you know. All wiggly and tiny, like you.”

“And you called me fat!” Percy was quivering now, teeth clattering and his quills erect. It made him look larger, but also as Pam had pointed out, a little fat. Right now, he was so stressed that he was also starting to emit a rather putrid odour.

“Phew, what’s that?” his brother Patrick said as he entered the room. “Have you been stinking again, Percy?”

“I hate all of you!” Percy cried as he stormed out of the burrow.

Percy ran and ran for a long time. He finally stopped when he reached the river. Fat drops of tears rolled down his snout as he looked at his reflection in the water. What was wrong with him? Why was he tiny and slow and stupid?

It wasn’t long before his mother caught up with him.

“You really shouldn’t let them get to you,” Mama Porcupine said as she gingerly put her arms around him. His black and white quills slowly started to deflate as he calmed down, and she brushed them down soothingly from head to tail.

“They’re mean. I want to poison all of them,” Percy replied. His breath slowed and his teeth stopped clattering.

“They don’t mean any harm. Besides, they’re just as prickly as you. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be teasing you so much.”

“But they’re all better porcupines than me. I’m useless.”

“Look, Percy, I think you’re a very fine Porcupine, no matter what anyone else says. And one day, you’ll prove yourself to them. Don’t let them get you down!”

Percy sighed. “Thanks Mama. I’ll try my best.” 

Percy the Porcupine was a prickly little thing, but so were all his siblings.


Today's suggestions were:

  • polyandry, from Barbara Harrison
  • porcupine, from Marie Hanna
  • possibility/purpose/posture, from Cherie Osier
  • platypus, from Sharna Steinert
  • Poison, from Red
  • putrid, pusillanimous, pilfer, from Donna Smith

I don't actually know where I was going with this but eh. 


This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Oriental -- #bookreview of Tales of Japan

Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and MagicTales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic by Chronicle Books
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The stories in Tales of Japan: Traditional Stories of Monsters and Magic were sourced from two 20th-century texts: Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn and Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki (both in public domain), with each story accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Kotaro Chiba. Just the cover itself is fantastic!

It's no secret that I love fairytales and folktales, especially those of Asian/East Asian origin. These fit right in with the stuff I'm looking for--my only gripe is that the translator(s) sometimes sound a little too apologetic about their use of Japanese terms which aren't directly translatable. Honestly, I don't mind. That's the charm of reading stories from other cultures, isn't it? There's also the occasional stiltedness of language, but overall, these traditional Japanese stories are highly enjoyable, written in that timeless fairy tale style.

The Dream of Akinosuke: I'm not sure if there's an English fairy tale equivalent for this. When Akinosuke takes a break under a tree he is caught up in an elaborate dream where he is swept off at the behest of the Tokoyo no Kokuo (the ruler of an unknown country; or the King of Fairyland). Is it all a dream or is it a true fairy encounter?
The Jelly Fish and the Monkey: An origin story of the jellyfish, in the vein of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. Also a fascinating first look at the mythology surrounding Ryn Jin, the Dragon King of the Sea.
Momotaro, or the Story of the Son of a Peach: In this Thumbelina/Tom Thumb-esque story, a childless couple cut open a giant peach to find a little child. Years later, Momotaro leaves his adopted parents to save a northeastern Japanese island from a band of devils. This gains some Bremen Town Musicians undertones with various animals joining him to help him in his quest.
The Happy Hunter and the Skillful Fisher: A lost fishing hook sends Hohodemi, the Happy Hunter, to Ryn Jin's realm. Ultimately a good brother vs bad brother story, where the older brother uses the excuse of the lost fishing hook to send Hohodemi away so he can usurp the throne. It's never explained why the younger brother is the Mikoto though and not the older? Also likely an origin story of why Hohodemi is said to control the tides.
The Bamboo-Cutter and the Moon-Child: This reminds me of Chinese tales of women (and bunnies) on the moon. No bunnies here, though. Also an amusing look at males who are so enamoured of a woman's beauty they say they would do anything to marry her... but then lie and cheat their way with the minimum of effort.

Ghosts and Monsters
The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi: This takes a dark turn, where a blind lute-priest is seen entertaining spirits.
Yuki-Onna: This story feels vaguely familiar--I probably came across it while writing When Winds Blow Cold--but it also follows the vein of traditional Chinese myths with mysterious (usually not so benign) female spirits/creatures who choose to stay with/marry a human man. The enchantment breaks and the spirit leaves when the man breaks their vow of secrecy.
Diplomacy: How do you make sure a vengeful ghost doesn't haunt you? Apparently by distracting them.
Mujina: Creepy faceless people story. I... dunno.
A Dead Secret: Still on the theme of ghosts, this dead woman won't leave until her secret is destroyed.
Rokuro-Kubi: Samurai-priests and headless goblins! It should be slightly macabre, but it's also quite hilarious.

The Tongue-Cut Sparrow: This follows the classic good hapless man, evil shrew wife. A good man gets rewarded by fairies, the evil wife tries to get more but meets her just rewards. I suppose there are similar themes no matter where you come from.
The Farmer and the Badger: An Aesop-like story, where the wicked badger tricks the farmer but then his neighbour the kind rabbit helps the farmer take revenge.
The Story of the Old Man Who Made Withered Trees to Flower: Childless couple takes care of beloved dog Shiro, who is magical and brings them good fortune! The evil neighbour who hates dogs tries to get Shiro to also bless him, but whatever he does turns to bad instead.
The Mirror of Matsuyama: Evil stepmother story. I said last week that evil stepmothers don't seem as prevalent outside Eurocentric stories, but here's one from Japan. Actually, the beginning as quite Beauty and the Beast; I was expecting the girl to be exchanged for something, but no. LOL.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Chronicle Books via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Narcissus

I remember him as a child, with large brown eyes that stared up at you doe-like and innocent. Soft, dark curls framed his face; his mother let it grow long, down to his shoulders, because she couldn’t bear to cut it short, couldn’t bear to mar his beauty. His mouth was a little rosebud, sometimes stretched in a mischievous grin, but most often pursed in thought or astonishment.

He was a beautiful boy, is a beautiful man, the years kinder to him than they have been to me. With the loss of his baby fat, his face is sharp, almost haunting, his deep-set eyes shadowed, hooded. They still glint with mischief. He’d always been brown and ruddy, but his skin now is a fine tan, a rich, smooth chocolate like the Cadbury bars he’d often pester his mother for as a child of six. He doesn’t eat milk chocolate anymore, preferring the bitterness of 60% cocoa that mirrors the darkness of life.
He brings me daffodils, white and gold narcissus, as I used to call him.

“You, my boy, are full of yourself,” I say as I put them in a vase.

He smiles.

“Have you found anyone to love yet?”

“No. Should I?” A dark eyebrow quirks upwards. His voice, broken and weighed down by years and puberty, is dulcet and low.

“Has anyone loved you then?”

He shrugs. “Everyone loves me.”

“Men or women?”

“Both. Everyone. Neanderthals, all of them.”

“You’ll die alone then, just as I will.”

My Narcissus laughs. “You? Alone? No, I’ll be here with you as I once promised.”

“You flatter an old man.”

“The man who taught me to be who I am.”

“A fact I regret every single day. Your mother turns in her grave.”

“Let her.”

It’s a flippancy I cannot let lie. “She was still your mother.”

“I’ve always been more your son than hers.”

That I cannot deny so I don’t respond.

“You’d bring her roses and I’d be jealous,” he says abruptly, turning away to look out the window.

There isn’t much to see out there. The home I’m in keeps the grass short but doesn’t bother with flowerbeds. Apparently, men—as most of us here are—aren’t supposed to want, need, or like flowers. I’ve always been a flower man. I miss them, and the secrets they hold.

“She was my wife,” I say. “I had to show my love and devotion.” True and false.

“You never bought me roses.”

“Our love wasn’t romantic. It would have been a travesty.” She wouldn’t have forgiven me, and who buys roses for a teenage boy anyway?

“It hurt.”

“But you were my Narcissus. And I bought you your name flower every occasion I could.”

He turns back to me, leaning backwards, hands gripping the window sill. “I deserved more.”

“I gave you everything I could.”

“Because you are full of yourself too, aren’t you?”

Too mocking, too bitter. This world is too dark when self-love becomes a twisted dagger. I shrug because what he says is true, because I have no answer for him, the child of my loins that is too like me to truly love me, to truly love anyone other than himself.

“Narcissus always dies alone,” he says.

The daffodils on my mantelpiece fade with time and grow brown and dry with age. I don’t throw them away even when their scent fades. In my dreams, Narcissus comes to me with hard, burning eyes and soft, dark curls, his mouth a pink rosebud sneer. In his right hand, he holds the narcissus, with his left he offers me petunias.

I never see him again.


Today's suggestions were:
  • narcissus, from Barbara Harrison
  • Nostalgia, from Lena
  • Nuance/nostalgia/Neanderthals, from Cherie Osier
  • numbat, from Sharna Steinert
  • nocturnal, nefarious, from Donna Smith

Mostly narcissus, a little bit of nostalgia and a mention of Neanderthals. Make of it what you will. 

This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

As of this post, I have 5,473 words of 10,000 for Camp Nanowrimo, and it's just past the middle of the month. Pretty on track, I'd say. :)

Monday, 15 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: The Mystery of the Missing Moonstone

It was a maelstrom in the manor. Someone, obviously with a magpie’s eye for shiny things, had stolen the Moonstone. Stolen, the Marquis was certain. It hadn’t just been dropped behind the dressing table or been left in the extra handbag or something stupid like that.

You see, when not worn, the Moonstone was displayed on a velvet pillow in a bulletproof glass case that was secured to a shelf that was chained to the wall in a maximum security vault which was guarded 24/7. Except, the guard had been found unconscious with a lump on his head and the glass had been shattered and the gem was missing. Now everyone in Maelstrom Manor was running around like headless chickens and screaming bloody murder, contributing to the general mayhem.

Marco, the Marquis of Maelstrom, accused his wife’s mischievous nephew, Matthew, who was visiting for the summer. Marigold sat in the corner crying and protesting that her nephew was a good boy, he was, and would never do such a thing. How would he even knock out the guard when he was such a small, gentle thing?

Mary the Cook shook her head. Matthew was at least six foot tall, a giant of a youth though he was only fifteen. And he was mischievous enough to think of such a trick. She was quite sure it wasn’t him, though, because Matthew had spent the whole day in her kitchens getting underfoot, sticking fingers in her pies, and eating up her freshly made macarons.

So who had done the dastardly deed? Who had taken the missing Moonstone? The hapless guard, once treated for his misfortune, was grilled by both the Marquis and his wife, but couldn’t give any clues as to the perpetrator. He had heard the cawing of a magpie and had gone to see if some poor bird had gotten stuck in the bars of the window. The minute he’d opened the door to the vault, someone had bashed him over the head.

Three days later, the mood at Maelstrom Manor was still poor. Marco stormed about the manor in a bad mood whilst Marigold stayed in bed with hysterics. Mary cooked more and more food because the only way she knew how to calm people down was to give them something to eat. Only Matthew acted more or less normally, eating everything he could beg from Mary and wandering all throughout the manor.

“Look what I found,” Matthew said late that evening, emerging from his explorations covered with dust. Mary could even see some twigs sticking out of his hair.

Mary stared at the gem in his hand. “Where did you get that? That’s the Moonstone your uncle and aunt have been tearing the manor apart for!”

“At the top of the tower, there’s this magpie’s nest. It’s great—it has everything! I even found this beautiful hat with a feather!” With that, Matthew pulled on a wide-brimmed hat that had a huge peacock feather stuck in its band.

“Well, that’s certainly macaroni,” Mary said, “but you’d better give the Moonstone back to your uncle before his mood gets worse.”

The Marquis was delighted to get the Moonstone back, Marigold recovered quickly, and Matthew was recognisable all around the manor and about town for his hat. But still, no one knows the mystery of who had taken the missing Moonstone and how it had appeared in the nest at the top of the tower.

No one, that is, except the Magpie of Maelstrom Manor.


Today's suggestions were:
  • marigold, from Barbara Harrison
  • Moonstone, from Andrea Stoeckel
  • mayhem/murder/mischievous/misunderstand, from Cherie Osier
  • magpie, from Sharna Steinert
  • maelstrom, macaroni, from Donna Smith

aaaaaannnnd I hit everything except misunderstand, although I cheated with some. :p
But, obscure bit of trivia about macaroni, as I'm using it (in the yankee doodle sense). 

This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

#AtoZChallenge: Larry the Lugubrious Leviathan

On that day the Lord will punish 
With his cruel sword, his mighty and powerful sword,
Leviathan that twisting sea-serpent,
That writhing serpent Leviathan,
And slay the monster of the deep.
Isaiah 27:1 (The New English Bible, 1970, Oxford/Cambridge)


It was said in times past that the Leviathan was the monster that haunted the depths of the sea. He was reputed to be a great sea-serpent with thick, shining coils that wrapped around hapless ships, dragging innocent men to their watery graves. Not that sailors were particularly innocent or even always male.

Larry the Sea-Serpent hated that description. It often made him lugubrious at odd times of the day when he remembered it.

“But why do they hate me so?” he grumbled to his friend, Lorna the Whale. She too had been called the Leviathan many a time, especially when Melville’s book Moby-Dick was popular. Nobody read Moby-Dick now, so she was spared the pain.

“Oh, they don’t hate you, Larry,” Lorna said. “They just hate what you represent.”

“I don’t represent anything,” he said grumpily. “I am a sea-serpent. I eat… what do I eat? Seaweed. That’s right. Seaweed.”

Leny the Kraken snorted. “Seaweed? You? I’ve never seen anything greenish brown pass those lips of yours, you liar.” Leny too had once been associated with the Leviathan, though he found it more ludicrous than anything.

“No no no, but they always say specifically like sea-serpent, as if I were the one solely responsible for all the wreckage at sea. No! Do you know how many dangerous creatures lurk in the ocean? Like you, Lorna! And you, Leny! And the Octopuses, and Sharks. But nooooooo it’s always sea-serpents. As if we’re the only things that wreck ships and eat people!”

“Weeeellllll, I don’t eat people,” Lorna said. “They can’t fit in my mouth.”

“And I don’t go up to the surface. At all,” Leny said. “So you’re the only one they see.”

“But what about storms! Storms wreck ships more than I do!” Larry wailed.

Lorna cleared her throat. “And who’s always attracted by storms? Who goes to watch humans drown in the storm?”

Larry looked hurt. “It’s entertaining. You can’t fault me.”

“You’re not doing yourself any favours here, Larry,” Leny said. “If you’ll just stop going ship-wreck watching, maybe they’ll stop thinking of you as the Leviathan?”

The sea-serpent’s face twisted downwards, making him look more lugubrious than his friends had ever seen.

“Oh come on, Larry. Not watching humans die isn’t the end of the world,” Lorna tried to cheer him up.

“I suppose,” he replied.

No matter what was said in times past, there are still monsters that haunt the deep places of the ocean. Just don’t tell Larry that you think they’re all him.


Today's suggestions were:

Well. Leviathan was fun. :) Also with lugubrious and a mention of ludicrous.

This year's A to Z is flash fiction based on words provided by the community... which is you! Explanatory stuff HERE, Google sheet link HERE.

My word target is 500 words per flash fiction piece, which I'm failing miserably at. At any rate, I'm now at 4.3K for Camp NaNoWriMo so some of the later pieces will have to be longer to make up my target of 10K for the month.

NOTE! I'm going to be pre-writing a bunch of posts tomorrow as I'll be away for Eastercon next weekend. If you have words to add, now's a good time to get them in. =)